Shut Up and Give Me the Goods: The Question Behind Recipe Blogs’ Long-Winded Intros
As an avid cook and someone who’s never not had the internet, recipe blogs have been an ever-frequent part of my search history my whole adult life. Some of my most favorite memories started with opening a recipe blog, and ended with empty plates, full stomachs, and happy hearts. However, there is one thing that I have always, always hated about recipe blogs — the long-winded intro.
I’m just trying to make soup. I don’t need to hear about how your cousin’s best friend's barber came up with the recipe and how you’ve changed it and whether or not your kids complain when you put peas in it. I don’t think I’ve ever read the preamble to a recipe once, in years of visiting hundreds of different recipe blogs. I have always wondered why they were even there in the first place — and then I started working in SEO. And I discovered recipe blog SEO is a whole nother can of beans.
Where the Long-Winded Intros Came From
In order to understand where these long-winded introductions came from, you first have to understand a bit of the history of Google’s ranking algorithms.
In the early days of the SERP, content was ranked primarily by keyword density. As you can imagine, this was incredibly easy to manipulate, and black-hat practices like keyword stuffing ran rampant. This is why updates like the Hummingbird update, which improved Google’s ability to understand natural language and rely less on the pure frequency of keywords for indexing, were so important and changed the way we practice SEO. Now, keyword-focused content has to be contextually relevant and meet other benchmarks of quality in order to rank well.
Why Are These Intros Still Being Used?
Objectivity doesn’t exist for recipe blogs. So, Google can’t really pick “the best” bread recipe, because that’s subjective based on searcher intent. But what they can do is pick the most recognizable brand or author name. This makes brand equity one of the most important parts of SEO for recipe blogs. Whoever has been around the longest, and is averaging the most traffic, likely has a reliable recipe.
Really, these intros are not there for Google’s benefit. Google doesn’t need a preamble to understand what a chocolate chip cookie is, and the recipe itself contains enough keywords for it to be indexed properly. However, the more space on a page recipe bloggers have, the more space they can monetize through affiliate marketing and AdSense.
This is how most recipe blogs make their money. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if someone uses their recipe, or even reads their — in some cases — painfully long introductions. What matters is the click-through rates and traffic. Those are the numbers they can sell.
Why Can Recipe Blogs Get Away With It?
In short, recipe blogs seem uniquely able to target huge amounts of keywords using natural language. For example, a banana bread recipe can exact-match for the keyword “banana bread recipe” 10 times, with each use being contextually relevant. Because of this, their long-winded, keyword stuffy intros were never severely penalized by the Google algorithms the way other, long-winded low-quality content was.
This is partially why the keyword space for recipes is so hyper-competitive, and subsequently so popular: because the keyword opportunities are so rich in this space. Any recipe could rank for dozens or even hundreds of natural variants, and each of those variants could draw significant traffic. By extension, this increased the amount of keywords posts needed to rank well in days when keyword density was essential to SEO — hence, lengthening intros and other non-recipe text on the page.
The wealth of natural variant keyword opportunities, as well as Google’s initial keyword-density ranking approach, meant that the long-winded intro approach was widely and deeply standardized among recipe bloggers. And, it happened to coincide with their monetization methods — primarily on-page ads. Even after search evolved to be more nuanced and critical, the playing field for recipe blogs was overwhelmed, giving Google no clear alternative but to rank the same overlong pages even as other SERPs were populated with concise, quality content.
What Does This Mean From a UX Perspective?
Because of the ongoing tradition of the long intro, as well as Google’s inability to rank recipe content objectively, this trend probably isn’t going anywhere. Incentives for other blogs to improve UX, such as bounce rate and click-throughs, don’t necessarily apply to recipe blogs due to the way that they monetize. This means currently, there’s no incentive to fix the intros, and no real penalty for having them (apart from frustrated SEO professionals writing their own blog posts about it).
If you don’t want to scroll through a bunch of text, stick to well-known brands that don’t have to use it. Unfortunately, if you have special dietary needs that may not be covered by big brands, or you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something out of the box, we’re pretty much stuck with the intros.
What Does This Mean From an SEO Perspective?
When it comes to recipe blog ranking factors, the rules are basically the same. It’s the fact that the distinguishing ranking factors are weighted differently that makes recipe SEO different than the standard practice. With recipe blog pages, Google isn't calculating relevance or assessing quality, it's assessing the content relative to the most similar content in its index. This is true for all content, but recipe blogs give us an interesting case study.
Because of this, and the way that Google’s algorithm currently works, it’s really no use trying to compete with the Food Networks of the recipe blog space, no matter how good your SEO is. However, this doesn’t mean that this will be the case forever. Google could very well roll out an update tomorrow that improves intelligence to disrupt the sticking power of big brands. It could even apply a niche-specific feature, which could single out recipe blogs specifically, that rewarded brevity and simple design over length and brand equity.
This is why everything is answered with "it depends" in SEO. Nothing is absolute, and anything can change.
Recipe Blog Best Practices
If you’re looking to start a recipe blog, or want to improve your traffic and rankings today, then your best practice is to make your blog only be one part of the way that you monetize. Other monetization opportunities for recipe bloggers include:
- Digital and print cookbooks;
- Pre-prepared meal plans;
- Sponsored posts;
- Paid apps or in-app purchases.
While these channels won’t improve your SEO, there is a symbiotic relationship there. Remember; SEO is only meaningful if you are trying to get discovered by answering common questions or covering commonly searched topics. People definitely search for recipes, but they also search for training, demonstrations, reviews, commentaries, reaction videos, communities, and so on. By using SEO in tandem with other multimedia channels, you can create a holistic strategy that has the best chance of increasing both your traffic, brand equity, and EAT signals.
Currently, the most valuable SEO tool that recipe bloggers have is patience. Just like there are no shortcuts to creating quality content, there are no shortcuts to establishing a recognizable name, producing regular content, and diversifying your media portfolio.